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Review board to get update on Calgary mass killer’s mental- health treatment

Board to weigh stabber's treatment progress

CALGARY — A panel is to get an update this week on the mental-health treatment of a man who stabbed five young people to death at a house party three years ago.

A judge found Matthew de Grood not criminally responsible in the deaths of Zackariah Rathwell, 21; Jordan Segura, 22; Josh Hunter, 23; Kaitlin Perras, 23, and Lawrence Hong, 27.

Justice Eric Macklin said in his ruling that de Grood was suffering from a mental disorder at the time and did not appreciate his actions were wrong.  

Ronda-Lee Rathwell, Zackariah’s mother, said preparing for the Alberta Review Board hearing scheduled for Thursday and Friday has been a painful ordeal, especially with the anniversary of her son’s death a week later.

“This is the only voice that I have,” she said of a victim impact statement she is trying to finish in time for the hearing.

“I hate that all I can do is write a victim impact statement stating how much I miss my son, how hard it is to live without him.”

De Grood’s trial was told he heard what he thought was the voice of the Devil telling him to kill and believed the end of the world was coming before he grabbed a knife from the kitchen in a Calgary home and fatally stabbed the five students.

Two psychiatrists who testified said de Grood’s psychosis was probably caused by schizophrenia, while another said that was one of a few possible diagnoses.

At de Grood’s last board hearing in July, panel members were told he was responding well to treatment for schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The board can decide to keep de Grood in a secure hospital, allow him into the community with conditions or grant him a full discharge.

Rathwell said she and other victims’ loved ones want de Grood to be deemed high risk, a designation that could mean hearings would take place as long as three years apart and unescorted passes into the community could be denied.

“I don’t believe that he can be cured or that he can ever be safe in the public and not able to do this again.” 

She said she was upset when she heard about a full discharge granted earlier this year to Will Baker, formerly known as Vince Li. The Winnipeg man had untreated schizophrenia when he beheaded a fellow Greyhound bus passenger in 2008.

Gregg Perras, Kaitlin’s father, said he’s frustrated the Crown has not yet sought a high-risk status for de Grood and he plans to discuss it with Alberta Justice officials after the hearing.

“This individual has shown the ability the hide his thoughts from others and very quickly dissolve into murderous and brutal behaviour in an unmedicated state,” he said.

“There is a clear risk that should he ever not be monitored that he could stop taking his medication. The five families clearly know what he is capable of should that transpire.”

Alberta Justice spokeswoman Katherine Thompson said the Crown is still considering whether to apply to Court of Queen’s Bench for a high-risk designation.

A big part of the decision will be based on how he is responding to treatment, she said in an emailed statement.

“All the material that the board receives next week will be relevant to the Crown’s consideration.”

The high-risk designation was part of federal legislation that came into force in 2014. The Conservative government at the time said the goal was to ensure public safety and to strengthen victims’ voices.

Chris Summerville, CEO of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, is critical of the high-risk label, which he called fallacious and faulty.  

Summerville, who has worked with Baker, said the gruesomeness or notoriety of a crime committed by someone with a mental illness is not a good predictor of whether it will happen again.

“That is such a weak argument,” he said. “You don’t create laws based on how society psychologically feels about some individual.”

There are a number of misconceptions about schizophrenia, including that the disease can’t be managed and that people who suffer from it are inherently violent.

“It’s treatable, but most of the public doesn’t believe that.”

But Summerville said he can understand why that idea can be tough for some victims’ loved ones to stomach.

“Their hearts are broken. Their lives have been torn apart. Their lives will never be the same, and that’s horrible.”

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press